How To Remove Vocals From Music Tracks Using Audacity

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Ever get a sudden, inexplicably irresistible desire for karaoke? Maybe you like the music of a song but can’t stand the lead singer? Here’s how to use remove the vocals from most music tracks in a few simple steps.

How It Works

Vocals are normally placed in the “center channel.” Stereo tracks have two channels, but not all of the instruments are balanced evenly. Sometimes the bass is pushed more towards the right channel, rhythm guitar might be found more towards the left, and so on. Usually the vocals are put dead center, so we can split the stereo track and invert one channel. This cancels out the vocals but leaves the rest in tact.  Primus often has extremely unbalanced channels. These kinds of tracks usually work well because the vocals are left evenly balanced between the two channels and that makes them easier to remove accurately. Songs with a lot of vocal effects may end up being mangled by the process, and songs with reverb may leave an echo despite vocals being gone.

On the whole, however this process works really well if you start with good quality audio. One of the most well known adages of audio editing is “garbage in equals garbage out.” If you start with CD audio and work from there, the end result will be cleaner and clearer than if you start with a compressed mp3. In HTG Explains: What Are the Differences Between All Those Audio Formats?, we went over different lossless and lossy formats, so make sure you start from a lossless audio file for best results. This isn’t to say that mp3 and the like won’t work, just that lossless audio works much better.

Removing the Center Channel

01 - import audio

Fire up Audacity and load your song of choice. I used a very special one for this project, and it’s dedicated to you wonderful readers.

The first thing we need to do is break the song’s two channels into two separate tracks. Click on the little black arrow next to the track title and go down to Split Stereo Track.

02 - split stereo track

Next, pick a channel (it doesn’t matter which) and double click to select the entire track.

03 - select one channel

Go to Effect > Invert.

04 - invert

If you hit play, you’ll notice the song sounds a little funny. The Inverted channel sounds like it’s coming from around the speaker instead of directly from it. The last thing we need to do to solidify the effect is change each track to “mono.” Click on the title of each track like when you split the tracks and choose “mono” from the menu.

05 - switch back to mono

That’s it! You can go to File > Export to save the track so you can use it for your secret karaoke parties. If you plan on saving into the mp3 format, be sure to read our guide on How To Add MP3 Support to Audacity.

Yatri Trivedi is a monk-like geek. When he's not overdosing on meditation and geek news of all kinds, he's hacking and tweaking something, often while mumbling in 4 or 5 other languages.

  • Published 03/18/11
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